CHICAGO (July 19, 6:40 p.m. EDT) — Since the first National Plastics Exposition more than 50 years ago, thousands of equipment makers have displayed their injection molding, extrusion, blow molding or thermoforming capabilities by popping out loads of housewares, bottles and film.
What attendees did not grab and stuff into suitcases as souvenirs had to be disposed of somehow. Until 1991, most of the leftover products were thrown away. That year, the show's sponsor — the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. — brought Susie Harpham on board to make recycling a regular part of NPE.
"With two months' notice, we had a lot to learn," she recalled about that first year of recycling at NPE. "The efforts in 1991 were heroic. The results were OK."
This year Harpham believes the results were quite strong. In fact, Harpham and Robert Render, president of Maine Plastics Inc., say exhibitors recycled nearly twice as much material this year as was recycled at the last NPE, in 1997.
Maine Plastics, based in North Chicago, Ill., was the show's official recycler this year.
According to Harpham and Render, Maine Plastics collected about 379,000 pounds of plastic from 94 of the 2,014 exhibitors at Chicago's McCormick Place. Altogether, they say exhibitors diverted about 800,000 pounds from landfills — that includes material given away, pre-sold and returned to the parent companies.
Harpham, president of the Columbus, Ohio-based Eco Educators, specializes in coordinating recycling and recycling training programs for large groups and projects. Prior to her NPE experience, she had coordinated recycling programs for major events such as the 1991 Super Bowl.
Running a recycling program for a show as huge as NPE took some time to smooth out the rough spots. Harpham thinks she and the recycling companies that have participated over the years have established a rhythm to make collecting, sorting and transporting material generated flow easier each year.
Render oversaw a crew of eight monitors who were responsible for sorting and loading the collected material onto Maine Plastics and Galaxy Transportation trucks.
At McCormick, material was collected by porters provided by GES Exposition Services Inc., the company hired by SPI to organize labor for NPE.
Render said Maine Plastics took away about 36 truck loads of virtually pristine scrap per day, averaging 10,000 pounds per truck. The company reprocessed and sold the material.
With 12 injection molding machines running continually, Patrice Aylward, spokeswoman Van Dorn Demag Corp., was glad to know that the blue all-purpose bins that didn't get snatched up by booth visitors were being taken away for recycling.
"We're running at very high speeds," she said. "We have five porters dedicated to our booth from 9 to 5. They bag the stuff and take it out." Van Dorn is based in Strongsville, Ohio.
Aylward said her company paid close to $3,000 for porter service to remove the bags for the week. Exhibitors must pay porter services to move material regardless as to where it goes, Render said.
"It doesn't really cost an exhibitor any more to (recycle), because they have to have the material removed from the building anyway," he said.
Though some companies complained that material accumulated too quickly at their booths before being bagged and picked up — creating an unsightly distraction within their displays — Render said that problem could have been solved by following Van Dorn's example and reserving porter service to remove material on a schedule.
"There were companies who were running much faster and they had not arranged for porter service that was appropriate for the amount of the material they were generating," Render said. "We really had no responsibility in regards to transporting the material to the dock at all.
"We tried to help when we could. In certain cases when people were really in a bind we brought some bags if porter service ran out of bags," he said.
David Nunes, president of Alpine American division of Hosokawa Micron International Inc., intended to produce bags to aid the recycling efforts this year, but a snag in the equipment prevented the machinery maker from running the bags.
The company did produce 50,000 pounds of film, and Nunes is confident all of it ended up in the recycling pool.
"We saw to it that the film was not wasted or dumped," he said. "It was good, high quality film."
Two companies that particularly struck Harpham for their efficiency were Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. of Bolton, Ontario, and Milacron Inc. of Batavia, Ohio.
"They really did an extraordinary job. They were over and above everyone else as far as their commitment," Harpham said about Husky. "Everybody that worked with them made a comment that they were the most efficient and most cooperative."
She said Husky employees were diligent in keeping the material packaged and sorted correctly, and made sure that excess plastics were removed from their booths as quickly as possible.
"They were very cautious as far as sorting — so was Milacron," she said. "They all were, but those two stick out in our minds.
Husky was running six machines, mainly producing injection molded PET preforms and storage bins; Milacron ran 37, producing a variety of injection molded parts.